Listen To
Your Body

Whether you suffer from blinding headaches, chronic digestive distress or aching in your joints that wakes you at night, these painful signals indicate that your health needs attention -- and fast. Though the occasional tension headache, bout of heartburn or back soreness is common, discomfort that's frequent or long lasting can worsen and even become life threatening if you ignore it. Here are physical pains you should not ignore.

Woman with throat pain

Headache

The head is one of the most common sites of pain in the body -- and tension headaches account for 90 percent of all headaches. Chronic tension headaches can indicate a need to brush up on your stress management techniques, but they may also signal that you have:

  • a muscular imbalance or vertebral misalignment (both of which can be addressed by a chiropractor or physical therapist)
  • poor postural habits (slumping over your work station or sleeping with your head cocked up on the arm of the couch)
  • bra straps that are too tight (it's time to buy a better fitting bra).

Ignoring pain from these discomforts, which are usually easy to remedy, drain your energy and gradually sap your quality of life. Excruciatingly painful headaches can signal migraines, which should be assessed by a doctor. At worst, they can indicate an anuerysm or brain tumor, both of which need immediate medical attention.

Pain in your chest and throat

Heartburn on occasion is nothing to be concerned about, but chronic acid reflux can indicate a more serious condition. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, frequent heartburn (at least twice per week) can be a symptom of gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD), which is associated with ulcers and bleeding in the esophagus and a potentially cancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus. Occasional heartburn can be remedied by taking antacids and avoiding trigger foods. GERD should be evaluated by a doctor, who can work with you on a successful treatment plan before it becomes more severe. Another reason not to ignore heartburn: It can mimic pain caused by a heart attack or angina. Monitor your heartburn's frequency and see a medical professional if it becomes a regular occurrence or begins to worsen in severity.

Persistent diarrhea and bloating

Daily digestive distress is not a normal occurrence and signals that your gastrointestinal tract needs attention. If you have persistent diarrhea and bloating accompanied by unintentional weight loss, blood and/or mucus in your stool, and abdominal cramping, you may have irritable bowel disease (IBD), a group of disorders for which the causes are currently being researched. IBD is characterized by inflammation of the intestines, which may be due to Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Though incurable, IBD should be evaluated by a doctor, who can prescribe a treatment to reduce inflammation and relieve associated symptoms. You may be able to get through your day with IBD, but ignoring it puts you at an increased risk of colon cancer in men and women and premature delivery in pregnant women.

Chronic low back pain

Back pain can come on suddenly -- say, after a fall or physical exertion -- or it can be a gradual pain that progresses to a debilitating level. Acute back strain can usually be remedied with rest and anti-inflammatories, but chronic pain is dangerous to ignore. Not only can low back pain indicate a herniated disc, osteoarthritis, fractures, osteoporosis or other structural conditions, it can also be a sign of bacterial infection, spinal tumor, pelvic inflammatory disease, aortic aneurysm, gallbladder or prostate disease. It can even indicate depression and mental duress. If you have low back pain, get in to see your doctor to rule out other serious medical conditions and to develop a treatment plan.

Calf ache

After a run or hike (particularly if it's been a while since your last trek), your calves can hurt for a day or two. If calf pain keeps you up at night and/or nags at you during the day, however, you may have deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Each year, 400,000 Americans develop DVT, with approximately half of those cases resulting in a blood clot called a pulmonary embolism (PE), a potentially fatal condition. DVT is the sudden clotting off of the main veins that drain the legs, arms, abdomen and chest of blood, which blocks the return to the heart, causing swelling and pain. DVT is more common with age but can strike men and women who have inherited blood clotting disorders, cancer, protein C deficiency, a sedentary lifestyle and trauma of the lower body as well as women on birth control pills. People with DVT can have bad varicose veins, ulcerations and, at worst, the need for amputation.

Regardless of the location on your body or level of severity, ignoring chronic pain will not make it go away. Make an appointment with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to put an end to your physical discomfort.

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